I have a friend who is a social outcast. He is a leper, a scourge, the Charlie Sheen of polite society. That is right, he is a smoker.    
He has been trying to quit (with an emphasis on the “trying”), so I decided to drop in on him to see how he is doing and bolster his resolve.    
“How’s it going?” I asked as I entered his office.    
“Terrible,” he replied. “My hands are shaking, my head hurts, and I’m beginning to wish I drove a diesel pickup just so that I could inhale smoke, any kind of smoke.”    
I noticed he was toying with his pencil, flicking nonexistent ash off its pointed end.
“How long has it been since your last cigarette?” I asked.
He glanced at his watch.
“One hour and 52 minutes.”    
“What? You fell off the wagon again?”     
“It isn’t my fault,” he replied. “I was driving to work when I passed a convenience store that’s a few blocks from a school. It made me angry to think here I am, trying to kick this filthy habit and there’s that convenience store, displaying cigarettes behind the counter where anyone can see them. I went into the store with the intention of giving its manager a piece of my mind. Then I thought, ‘Why not remove the kids’ temptation entirely?’ so I bought all of their cigarettes. I was feeling pretty pleased about my good deed, but then I drove past a farm where they were burning leaves and well.”    
“Have you ever tried nicotine patches? I’ve heard that they can help.”    
“Yeah, but they’re hard to keep lit and their flavor leaves a lot to be desired.”    
“How about nicotine gum?”    
“I’ve tried that too, but after I got a dozen or so pieces in my mouth, I had trouble talking. Plus, the gals around the office kept saying ‘Moo!’ every time I walked by. It doesn’t help matters when you’re being teased about chewing your cud.”    
“You know,” I said lowering my voice, “I’ve heard that enjoying the physical side of marriage has helped a lot of people quit smoking.”    
“Yeah, I thought about that too. I was having a rocky time of it one day and asked my wife if we could do something to help me through this rough patch. She said, ‘Sure, but what will you do for the other 23 hours and 58 minutes of the day?’ I said that if I could just get past this tough bit, maybe I’d make it the rest of the day and maybe then I’d be able to quit smoking altogether and live a much longer life. She looked at me and said, ‘Well, everybody’s got to go sometime.’ She had a point, so I went outside and lit up.”    
“It’s my own dumb fault,” he continued. “I should never have gone for my annual physical. My doc told me to quit smoking and said that I should lose some weight and that I needed to cut back on sweets and red meat. What’s the point of living if you aren’t allowed to enjoy life?”    
“This reminds me of a story I once heard about an old rancher who bought a pair of custom-made boots,” I replied. “The old rancher was in town one day when he bumped into the bootmaker. The bootmaker asked the rancher about the new boots. ‘They’re tighter than heck, they hurt me all the time,’ exclaimed the old rancher. The bootmaker said he’d gladly adjust the boots for free. ‘No way. You ain’t touching those boots!’ said the old rancher.
“The bootmaker was surprised and asked why. ‘I’ll tell you why,’ said the old rancher. ‘I get up in the morning and pull on those boots. I go outside and see that my cows have busted out, so I have to chase them back in and spend half the day fixing rusty old barbwire fence. Then the dog bites me and a calf knocks me into the mud. My tractor breaks down and I have to spend $50 for a part that should cost $5. Come sundown, I’m tired and achy. Supper is cold, and my wife is crabby. And that’s why you can’t fix those boots. Because taking them off at the end of the day is the only pleasure I get.’”    
My pal silently mulled this over as he chewed on his pencil.
“You’ve given me an idea,” he said. “I’m going to swing by the shoe store on my way home. But first, I’m going to stop at the office supply place. I wonder if they carry pencils that have menthol erasers?”
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.